Monday 7 December 2020

Section 8 - Durrant, Beaton, Portela, Lewis, Heta, Baggish

Up and down year for Glen really. He started off the year as he finished the last one, looking very much like a top 10 player, seemingly being worthy of in the discussion of Premier League quality, a tournament he would eventually win, and reaching another major semi final. Then Glen was ill for a while, coinciding with a positive Covid test, which caused him to miss the European Champimonship, and he's not really looked himself since, looking well off the pace in the Winter Series, where he suffered four first round defeats and only just picking up two decider wins in the remaining event, was just as far off in the Grand Slam where he picked up just four legs and averaged below 90 in every game, even below 80 in the first, and then went out in the first round of the Players Championship to Wayne Jones, albeit his average was back up at 95 in that one. That's the big question - what condition is Durrant in? Hopefully he has had time to properly recover and get on the practice board, as such it's a bit unfortunate that he's been drawn on day 2 of the worlds, every bit of extra time would have been useful.

Before then, it was great - the very worst he did in the first 8 Pro Tour events was a last 32, making two quarters, and he continued that to start the Summer Series with another two quarter finals in the first two days, and would tack on another quarter final in the Autumn Series. Prior to the shutdown he'd done enough to go top of the Premier League, he was unfortunate to draw Peter Wright first up in the UK Open, and of course he would have the Matchplay run where eliminated de Zwaan, avenged the Wright loss and then took out Vincent van der Voort in a chippy overtime game. That seems like quite a long time ago now, so I think we have to hope that the improved performance against Jones (who, to be fair, was averaging a ton so even peak Durrant might have had troubles) is a sign that he's over the worst of what was a bad couple of months.

It's world championship number 30 for Steve Beaton, which, if Wikipedia is to be believed is now a record. Question is how many more there will be, as there's signs of decline for Beaton. First is the rankings - he's now out of the top 32 in the world for the first time seemingly since forever, sure it's only just right now, but he's got to fight just to get what would have been guaranteed second round money having only got in through the Pro Tour rankings, and not overly high in those rankings either, being just number 23. Sliding floor form is going to be a huge problem - he's now missing majors, and even those he did make this year didn't result in anything useful - sure he drew Anderson in the UK Open, can't do much about that, and while he did sneak into the Matchplay (as the second to last qualifier) and push Adrian Lewis to overtime, is that really much of a feat these days? Steve only ended up in the last dozen or so players to make the Players Championship Finals, and won just one leg against Danny Noppert.

You may look at those Players Championship performances and think it's not all too bad, he can still make quarters, etc etc - but look at it a bit further. There are only four events where he managed to win more than one match. Two of those were on the first weekend of the season, including one of the quarter finals. The other quarter final was in Players Championship event 6 way back in February. In the various series, he won his board on the first day of the Summer Series (over Leung, Konterman and Rodriguez, none of whom are in the worlds), but since then he's lost in the first round on eight of fourteen occasions, and lost in the second round every other time. If he's going to need to qualify via floor events next year, as looks extremely likely, it's a huge concern. Let's hope 2021 is a bit better.

Fourth crack at the worlds for Diogo Portela, who's here as the South American invite on account of there being no real qualifier, and there being no other legitimate option from that area of the world. Portela's previously taken a set off of Peter Wright and ran Ron Meulenkamp pretty close, while last year's result wouldn't have been ideal, but he's continuing to work hard on his game and is pushing to try to get onto the main tour, doing what he could in a difficult 2020 for non tour card holders. He did manage to get into the one Pro Tour event - number 8, where we had pretty much everyone withdrawing and you could get into it if you'd just been working at the bar at Q-School, and he did pick up a win over Aaron Beeney and give Ian White a decent game, missing darts to go 5-3 up and eventually losing 6-4.

Where we can gauge Portela's form is the Challenge Tour - he played all 10 events, but I think it's fair to say his season was a bit disappointing, only reaching the last 16 twice and falling short of the money on more occasions than not. The first event was the best, where he went from the round of 512 (first Challenge Tour weekend is always busy) all the way to the last sixteen, beating a few known names like Vincent Kamphuis, Boris Koltsov, Dean Reynolds and Nathan Rafferty, but on the second series of events he only managed to get beyond the low 80's in terms of averages in two games, once against the hot prospect Lewis Williams, which helped a bit, and then against Richie Burnett a couple of tournaments later. If he was going to seriously challenge, you'd have expected a bit of a better average here and there, but with Beaton seemingly declining, who knows?

When are we going to see the sort of Adrian Lewis that won two world titles? I don't think it's just a case of the field having caught up and surpassed him, although they certainly have, he's just not at the peak level he was back in the day. It might surprise you to learn that it was a decade ago that he won his first worlds, but go back and look at the averages there and think to when you last saw Adie put up that sort of performance. The last thing he wants is a tricky first round draw, which is exactly what he has got, but are we underrating him? I don't know. On the floor, he's not even in the top 32 of the averages, and he went on a horror streak post-restart where he went twelve (entered) events with nine first round defeats and just four wins, of which only Stephen Bunting should be remotely threatening to Lewis. He did pick up with a semi and quarter in the last two, only falling short to Ratajski and de Sousa which is not bad at all, and was similarly able to reach the semis in the first event of the year.

On stage it's more mixed. He only played two Euro Tour events, and lost as a seed to Danny Noppert twice. No prize money = no Euro Championship. He got screwed out of the Grand Prix by a probable false Covid test. As he's won nothing, he needed to try to qualify for the Grand Slam and lost in that qualifier to Rowby-John Rodriguez. He fell at the first hurdle in the "Minehead" events to Jason Lowe and Simon Whitlock. However, he did look alright at the Matchplay, getting through a tussle with Steve Beaton before eliminating Danny Noppert with just under a ton average, only falling to the eventual champion. There's still something there, but it's increasingly sporadic, and it'll take a sustained upturn in form before we start talking about Lewis as a potential major champion again. He's triple digit odds for a reason.

Heta's going to be an enormous threat to Adie, and assuming he gets past Danny Baggish, should start as favourite. He's been playing that well in a phenomenal first year in the PDC which should see him threaten the top 32 by this time next year, maybe sooner if he has a good run which is entirely possible. His start to the year was a bit slow, positively pedestrian in fact, although it was certainly not helped by the draws - while he only got four wins in the first eight events, he did lose to van Gerwen twice, Price, Clayton, Suljovic... not exactly bad losses, neither was a first round UK Open defeat to Scott Waites, who was averaging 100 at the time. He'd miss the whole Summer Series due to not really being able to travel back from Australia, which put to bed any chances of the early majors, and then draws didn't look much better in the Autumn Series as he drew de Sousa first up in event one and lost.

Then Damon came back the next day and won one. He beat Waites, van Gerwen, van den Bergh, Ross Smith, Schindler, Bunting and Joe Cullen in the final to claim a first ranking title (having of course won a non-ranking World Series event last year). That really kicked things off - he'd make the quarters the day after and lose to van Gerwen. He'd come back in the Winter Series and make another two quarters and nearly bink another event, only being stopped by Gerwyn Price in a tight final. The Autumn Series performance got him in the Grand Slam, where he got away with one against Wattimena to qualify but took advantage of his luck and eliminated Devon Petersen, before losing a rematch against Wade. Damon had also done enough to get a top quarter seed in the Players Championship Finals, and would roll over Kuivenhoven, Murray and Ross Smith before falling to eventual finalist Mervyn King. Definitely picking the right time to hit form.

Danny Baggish is back for a second attempt, after a good opening foray in 2020 where he won a tight first round game against the ever-underrated Andy Boulton, and then gave Nathan Aspinall a fright by winning the first set and forcing sets three and four to deciding legs. He returns having won through the CDC weekend in Indianapolis in early October - he absolutely dominated the field, averaging five points more than anyone else as he clinched three of the four events, only having two games where he was significantly below a 90 average, frequently averaging upwards of 95, only having the one defeat to Darin Young - and he missed match darts in that one. Easily the USA's best product in years, he's very much one to be feared.

The questions are whether he'll be able to step up to someone of Heta's quality. I think on the basis of the CDC weekend, he's certainly capable - he got most of his big averages without significant help from his opponents which can easily cause inflation, so the quality should translate well enough. There's then the question of if he can handle the stage - that he's been here before and played well should provide plenty of confidence, I don't think that'll be a big concern. It's a tough ask and I think both players will be rueing the fact they couldn't have drawn someone else, but Danny's got the ability to do something. I suppose the real question is why the hell whoever chose the USA's World Cup team didn't pick Baggish and went with Chuck Puleo?

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